Hereford girls soccer coach Brad Duvall believed he had a “state championship-quality team” the past two seasons.
The Bulls came close to living up to his expectations before losing in a Class 3A state semifinal in 2015 and North Region championship last year.
Still, those teams won a combined five playoffs games and went 23-8 overall during that span.
But he has a more realistic approach to the 2016 Bulls after losing 10 seniors from last year’s team to graduation.
“It’s a building year,” said Duvall, who is in his fourth season as head coach. “This year’s goal is to be rebuilding for next year, but not giving up on this year and growing some of our younger kids.”
That’s why the coach wasn’t overly surprised Hereford started 0-4 this season, bowing in non-league matches to C. Milton Wright, Linganore, Winter’s Mill and Northwest.
“For me, it was, ‘How do we keep things positive and not letting them get down on themselves,’” he explained.
Now, Duvall is excited about the way the Bulls are playing while going 6-2 since that demoralizing start.
“We have blossomed and have been on a little bit of a roll,” Duvall said. “As we roll into playoffs, we are starting to look strong in terms of health and we are looking better. We got hot there, and hopefully we will continue it into the playoffs.”
Hereford’s turnaround started with a 4-2 victory over visiting Loch Raven on Sept. 9.
“When we won that first game, it took a lot of weight off everybody’s shoulders,” Duvall said. “The girls were struggling a little bit. The girls were putting in the hard work and they weren’t seeing the results.
“That’s hard especially with a younger team,” he added. “We have five seniors and none of them are four-year players.”
The seniors on the roster are Anna Mozelack, Lexi Saunders, Gabby Velleggia, Mumtaz Fardi and Ella Tankersley.
They’re supporting five returning starters in the lineup from a team that fell to Wilde Lake in the regional final last year: junior Danielle Maggio, junior midfielder Kara Schmidt, sophomore defender Emma Charles, junior defender Megan Lime and sophomore forward Rachel Saunders.
“We have had five or six really high-level players coming back and a lot of players coming back who needed to grow into bigger positions,” Duvall said.
One player in particular — Maggio — jumps out to Duvall because of her team-leading 15 goals and six assists.
Four of the honorable mention All-State pick’s goals came in a key 5-1 victory over host Towson High on Sept. 30.
“She’s got a really strong and accurate left foot,” said Duvall, noting her brother Dom is a punter at Wake Forest University. “She’s got a knack for the goal and takes a shot when she has a sliver of daylight. She receives the ball, turns and puts the ball in the upper corner, where the goalkeeper has no prayer.”
Duvall worried about his goalies coming into the season because last year’s starter, Lizzie Chapline, decided not to come out for soccer, and backup Aoife Kinnucane transferred.
That left Emily Arnold as the starter, but she was coming off a knee injury.
She also missed five games this season with a concussion, which made room for Carly Stevens to log quality minutes until Arnold returned to the lineup against visiting Perry Hall on Oct. 13.
“I had been concerned about it for 10 months,” Duvall said of the team’s troublesome netminder situation. “Emily tore her ACL last winter playing basketball, but she is very talented.”
Schmidt said that she knows the Bulls are playing their best soccer of the season at the perfect time with the playoffs starting Nov. 1.
“We really have gotten closer with each other and learned to play together well,” Schmidt said. “We are making it work. We are working so hard.”